Viet Nam News
MEKONG DELTA — For more than a decade, a group of nearly 20 farmers has been travelling through the Đồng Tháp Mười wetland to build houses for those even less advantaged thhan themselves.
On a scorching hot noon in mid-August, a dozen middle-aged men labored to unload heavy logs of eucalyptus wood from a rumbling truck. The men were drenched in sweat but appeared strangely content. The reason for their satisfaction was simple: "The woodpile we have today will be enough to build several houses for poor people,” explained one.
Nguyễn Văn Hoàng, the head of the An Hoà Commune’s Red Cross society in the north of Đồng Tháp Province, is also head of the “charitable house group”. He travelled to the Cambodian-border commune of Thường Thới Tiền some 40km away to buy the logs for VNĐ 30 million (US$1,320).
“The money came solely from donations. People see that we are capable and that the work we do is decent so many have contributed. The only concern is that we won’t have the strength to build houses any more, not the lack of funds,” Hoàng told the Tiền Phong (Vanguard) newspaper.
The charitable house group was formed more than ten years ago. When members first solicited donations, many people were visibly hesitant because they were not sure their money would be used for the right people. “When doing charity work like this, money matters must be transparently clear or else people will not be convinced,” Hoàng said.
The initial group was smaller, but its results drew additional members. At present, the group boasts 18 members, with the oldest in their late 70s and youngest one being 55.
Every day, the men carry out a "to do" list of tasks – chopping trees, shaving logs, building wooden frames, transporting the material to the needy and starting construction. The group has also asked for donations to build several small bridges – crucial for a region criss-crossed by rivers, canals and other water channels – as well as hundreds of bikes and thousands of notebooks for poor students at the start of the new school year in September.
Hoàng said after receiving donations from benefactors who live as far as HCM City, the group buys wood from orchards, then carries out a survey before construction. The houses the group builds are mostly stilt houses or one-floor wooden houses, with an area of 30-32 sq.m each, covered with corrugated metal roofs.
On average, the group builds some 150 charitable houses a year at a total cost of VNĐ 3 billion ($132,000), each costing around VNĐ 20-35 million ($880-1,540).
Nguyễn Văn Quý, vice chairman of An Hoà People’s Committee, said the group’s efforts in replacing makeshift houses is helping the locality achieve new rural standards.
The Vietnamese have a saying: “The whole leaf covers the torn ones”. In other words, those with more means help those with fewer. In the case of the charitable house group, the saying could be modified to say “the torn leaves cover the even more torn ones” to more accurately describe the situation.
According to Hoàng, members of the group are all poor, however, their children are grown up and established, so now they have time to help those even poorer than them.
Nguyễn Thanh Tâm, 61, doesn’t have any agricultural field to speak of. His three children, already married and working in HCM City, send money back to their parents.
“We are poor, no doubt about that, but luckily, we do not have to worry about hunger, we still have a decent house. Many others are facing more difficulties than us, so we try to help them as much as we can. This way, we also accumulate good karma for our children,” Tâm said.
Other members, like Nguyễn Văn Tèo and Dương Văn Tài, are in the same boat, their sole income being from children’s support, but that doesn’t deter them from helping others. “No one lives forever, so just do whatever is useful to society while you still can, and for the younger children to follow,” Tài said.
According to Tài, none of the group’s members worked professionally in carpentry. “At first, the wood look really ugly, but time has honed our skills. And moreover, this is volunteering, without any training whatsoever, so the recipients of the houses don’t even want to complain, just having a sturdy house to live in is enough for them,” Tài said.
Over time, word spread and residents from far and wide – even from other provinces like Kiên Giang or Bến Tre – have come to seek the group’s help. The group verifies their status and gets to work.
Nguyễn Văn Thành from Phú Thành B Commune of Hồng Ngự township is one of the many who have received the group’s help. Thành and his wife don’t own any land, they have four young children and have been living on a decade-old decrepit boat floating on a sedentary nearby river.
“Having a house on land is a life-long dream of mine, but after years of working it still remains so distant. I can barely keep my family fed. Now, me and my wife no longer have to worry about our daughter falling into the river or the strong waves sinking the boat,” Thành said. — VNS